DENVER- With nary a contested primary between them, candidates at the 2014 Democratic Assembly still had relatively heavy turnout in the Colorado Convention Center’s 2001 Space Odyssey-esque Bellco Theater. Thousands of Democrats from across the state gathered for speeches by the party’s top ticket candidates — incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Udall and Governor John Hickenlooper.
While every campaign has its own song, Colorado Dems’ collective 2014 jam is undoubtably the blockbuster “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. The song played at least three times as candidates confident of their party’s support called November’s roster a “dream ticket.”
Here’s a quick rundown:
Secretary of State candidate Joe Neguse accepted his nomination challenge GOP’s Wayne Williams, Colorado Springs Clerk and Recorder. Neguse pitted his personal history as a first generation immigrant and civil rights activist against a shared history of what Democrats have called voter suppression between current Secretary of State Scott Gessler and Williams, Gessler’s chosen successor.
Former Colorado Congresswoman Betsy Markey formally accepted her nomination for State Treasurer. Running against old-money, GOP establishment Walker Stapleton, Markey asserted that, “personal wealth is not the key to power.”
Don Quick, the former District Attorney of Adams and Broomfield Counties, accepted his nomination to run for Colorado Attorney General. He won big cheers for promising to bring down youth incarceration rates as he did in Adams County and bigger cheers for pledging not to defend Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage, which he says is unconstitutional.
Though Colorado Democrats celebrated their choices of candidates Saturday, they are well aware that they’re facing some of the most competitive races in the country.
Incumbent Mark Udall has been thrust into one of the nation’s most-watched Senate races against current U.S. Congressman Cory Gardner. At the assembly, banners and posters for Udall out-numbered and out-scaled even those for popular Governor John Hickenlooper.
Introducing Udall, former U.S. Senator ad Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar described the him as something of a Kennedy of the West, balancing the Udall family’s four generations of political insider-ship with Colorado-based values.
“He will not be bought by any special interest. He’s not afraid to stand up to the Koch brothers, to the President of the United States, or to anybody else because he has the Western independence that makes him a Udall.”
“We’re the Party of the 21st century, we’re the diverse party, we’re the inclusive party,” Udall said to loud cheers before moving onto a rapid-fire enumeration of the party platform. He noted that Coloradans stick together “come hell or high water,” adding that the state has seen both — fire and flooding — literally over the past year. He also noted that his opponent in the general election, 4th District U.S. Congressman Cory Gardner, voted with the Republicans in Congress to shut down the federal government just when Colorado was looking for help recovering from last year’s historic floods.
Udall’s loudest cheers didn’t come from his assertions that he would never stop fighting for a woman’s right to choose, for a diversified “best of the above” approach to energy development, for medicare and social security, or even for affordable K-12 and higher education. He brought down the house when he brought up his long-standing opposition to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. He steered the conversation away from wedge social issues and toward something he felt all Coloradans — and particularly libertarian independent voters — could agree on.
“At the heart of freedom is the freedom to be left alone,” he said.
Governor John Hickenlooper came in at a close second for best in show and, as usual, won the day for best political ad with his ironic “Getting into Shape” campaign video. The ad featurs Hickenlooper, under the stern coaching of Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia, drinking raw eggs and biking frenetically. The Governor came to the stage wearing a modified Nuggets basketball jersey with the number four printed on it.
Hickenlooper noted that in just three years, Colorado has jumped from 40th in the nation for job growth to 4th. He won big cheers as he ceremoniously put on a jersey with the number one, promising to elevate the entire state — with its urban, suburban and rural areas — to first in the nation for new job creation.
Hickenlooper’s unified state message, rooted in economic growth, hit a slight snag when a few members of the crowd shouted out asking why he was suing Longmont for banning fracking. The Governor paused mid-speech and promised to talk it over with the constituents.
Congressman Jared Polis, who has put big bucks behind anti-fracking campaigns, said he didn’t feel that tensions over the Governor’s often frack-friendly stance would be a deciding issue come Election Day.
“The Democratic party is a diverse party,” he said.
Assistant State House Majority Leader, Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver concurred.
“We don’t all have to agree with each other. We can disagree but not be disagreeable. We can have discussions and debates in a thoughtful away and come to good policy decisions. Ultimately everyone in this room agrees on more than they disagree on, and that’s the focus,” he said.
Aside from the unexpected eruption about fracking, Saturday’s Democratic Assembly was otherwise an event celebrating foregone conclusions and Democratic optimism put to music by the “happiness is the truth” lyrics of the party’s 2014 theme song that blared over loudspeakers throughout the day.
And as for those hotly contested GOP primaries combusting local and national headlines?
“Hopefully, the last candidates left standing will fall off the far-right edge of the flat earth,” said state Senator Pat Steadman of Denver.
Having accepted their nominations last night, Colorado’s Democratic candidates for Congress took the stage as the assembly crowd thinned-out.
Former state lawmaker Andrew Romanoff will challenge Republican incumbent Mike Coffman for the highly-contested Aurora CD 6 seat. In his speech, Romanoff said that the two words that most terrify his opponent are “congressional record” because polls in the swing district show more liberal than Tea Party leanings on issues from abortion to minimum wage and immigration. Romanoff avoided throwing too much dirt Coffman’s way, sayingtheir public policy differences are enough to turn the seat blue.
Romanoff’s fellow Congressional candidates took a slightly sharper approach at the podium, throwing jabs at Republican in-fighting.
Major General Irv Halter, who likely will try to oust incumbent Doug Lamborn in Colorado Springs’s CD 5, said he could win the historically red seat because his opponent has been embarrassing Colorado for years in Congress and is currently facing a contested primary.
“If there’s one thing I learned as a military leader, when your opponent is wounded you kick it into high gear and relentlessly apply every resource available to finish him off,” said Halter, to the elation of the generally conflict-adverse assembly.
Former state lawmaker Abel Tapia of Pueblo said he could beat incumbent Scott Tipton in CD 3, who’s also fielding a contested primary. Tapia called-out Tipton for “not even showing up for the Farm Bill” — a critical piece of federal legislation for the western district’s large population of ranchers and farmers.
And while Vic Meyers might be a dark horse for the ultra-conservative CD 4 seat on the eastern plains, the corrections officer has an almost Progress Now level of mastery when it comes to nick-naming opponents. And he’s got plenty of potential opponents in the crowded race for the seat Congressman Cory Gardner is vacating to make a bid for Senate.
“They have Carpetbagger Laffey, Kirkmeyer the Successionist, Scott Leviticus Renfroe, and Buyers Remorse Buck,” Meyers said to hearty laughter.
“The guy who’s currently elected to represent us, his name is Contradiction Cory. He’s not doing anything and that guy speaks to why I decided to step up and do this,” Meyers continued. He added that “nobody got hurt,” when he accepted his nomination last night, but that on the GOP side there was a “near fatality when the campaign of Ken Buck almost drowned in tea.”
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[Photo by Julie Podair]